Check against delivery

Good afternoon, thank you all for coming.

Since yesterday’s update, we have confirmed 42 new cases of COVID-19.

This means that 301 cases have now been identified in our province.

We suspect up to 11 of these cases may be community transmission.

18 individuals have been hospitalized and seven are receiving care in the ICU.

There have been no additional deaths.

Three Albertans have recovered from COVID-19 so far.

Case update: Bonspiel and Red Deer physician

I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the investigation into the Edmonton bonspiel with Western Canadian physicians and other health care workers that occurred March 11th to 14th.

All attendees have been contacted and are self isolating.

We have determined that 11 of the 47 Alberta health care workers who attended the event have now tested positive for COVID-19. Many are physicians.

Some of these individuals worked early last week before notification of the case associated with the event, and all contacts are being notified as per usual through local public health follow up. Some of these contact have been patients.

I was able to speak with one of the organizers last night, who described the measures that were taken to follow guidelines that were in place at the time.

Despite the measures, transmission took place and the key messages that we can take away from this event are that even mild symptoms – a minor sore throat or runny nose – can result in spread of infection, and that commonly touched surfaces like serving spoons at a buffet can be a mechanism for spread.

COVID-19 does not discriminate. All of us need to be vigilant with regular hand hygiene, staying home even with minor respirator symptoms, and keeping unwashed hands well away from our face.

Testing changes

I want to talk now about isolation timelines and testing changes. Earlier today, we announced changes to our testing protocols for COVID-19.

I understand Albertans may have questions about this change, so I’d like to take a few minutes to address your concerns.

First, we’ve updated our self-isolation guidelines for those who are sick from 14 days to 10 days following the onset of symptoms.

The most-up-to-date medical evidence now indicates that if you are feeling well after 10 days from the onset of symptoms, you will be able to stop self-isolating, provided your symptoms have resolved. If symptoms continue past 10 days, self isolation should as well.

The 10 day timeline is for those who are sick. For those who are well and have had an exposure of concern, such as travellers returning from out of Canada or close contacts of a confirmed case, they will still need to self isolate for 14 days upon their return or after last exposure as a precaution.

Should they start to experience symptoms, they must also follow the same 10-day guidance.

This means that if a person returned from abroad and experienced symptoms after 7 days, they will be required to self-isolate for 10 days from the start of symptoms. In this example, that would extend their self isolation to 17 days.

In addition, we are also adapting our testing approach to ensure we prioritize those who need testing the most.

You have heard me talk about a need to shift the use of our testing capacity to enable both capture of some returning travellers with illness, as well as testing those who have not travelled.

Going forward, we will continue testing that has been in place for the last few weeks, of people who are  hospitalized with respiratory illness and residents of continuing care and similar facilities.

For these individuals, COVID-19 remains a dangerous illness, and access to testing can make all the difference.

Additionally, later this week we will also be adding testing for healthcare workers.

This is being done to ensure the physicians and nurses we rely on can return to the frontline as soon as possible.

Individuals with mild symptoms who do not fit these categories will not be tested. We will honour any existing appointments already made, but going forward this will be a change for returning travellers.

Returning travellers should stay at home and self-isolate for the minimum 10 days from the start of their symptoms, or until symptoms resolve, whichever is longer.

This new approach, which has been adopted in other provinces, reflects the fact that the number one thing you can do if you have mild symptoms isn’t to get tested — it’s to stay home and self-isolate.

I understand some Albertans may be upset with this change. I can appreciate the comfort and certainty that testing can bring for those unsure whether they have a minor bug or COVID-19.

It is important to remember that the majority of people who get COVID-19 will experience minor symptoms—if any.

For those who do experience these symptoms, there is nothing better you can do for yourself and others than staying home and self-isolating.

AHS update

I’d also like to give you an update on some of the work occurring in our health facilities to make sure our health system is ready to respond.

Alberta Health Services has taken two significant steps to minimize the risk of transmission at our hospitals, to protect our staff, and to ensure we are able to provide safe, timely care and treatment to patients.

Starting this week staff, physicians and contractors at clinical healthcare sites will be screened before starting their shift.

They will be met at the entrance, given a temperature check and asked to complete a short questionnaire to assess health risk.

Any employee deemed not fit to work will be asked to return home and told to self-isolate.

This is necessary to keep both patients and healthcare workers safe.

AHS is also implementing a process that will expedite return to work for healthcare workers who are self-isolating but displaying no symptoms.

This will only be done in exceptional and limited circumstances, where it is absolutely necessary for that frontline care provider to work, and where there are no other alternatives for coverage.

Please be assured this process will be very carefully managed. Any staff who is approved for an expedited return to work will be required to follow strict conditions.

Patient and staff safety will be the deciding factor in any approval.

Mental health

It has been close to a week since strict measures for social distancing and mass gatherings were put in place.

And with the warm weather now approaching, I can understand the need to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

Again, I reiterate the importance of practicing social or physical distancing whenever you are out in public.

While I do encourage people to go for walks and enjoy being outside, it is extremely important to maintain distance.

Whether it’s the Glenora stairs or heading up Nose Hill, please be careful to maintain a distance of two metres and to avoid touching rails, garbage cans or other potential sources of transmission.

I especially caution Albertans against planning trips to provincial parks or the mountains, where many washrooms, restaurants and facilities are closed, and where large crowds can form.

Now is not the time for travel.

I know that these measures we have put in place continue to strain families, businesses and all Albertans.

And I appreciate how hard it is to be separated from family and friends during such stressful times.

It’s important to remember that we are all in this together. Now, more than ever, we need to take care of each other…this means now, more than ever, keeping a physical distance…and now more than ever finding creative ways to maintain our bonds and stay socially connected.  

Connection is so vitally important to our mental and emotional wellbeing.

I encourage anyone who needs support to reach out to someone they trust, talk to a family member, friend, or someone they can be honest with to talk through concerns.

As part of this message, today Alberta Health Services is launching a text-based program that aims to help provide encouragement and hope to Albertans.

Text4Hope sends subscribers text messages of support and encouragement to ease stress or anxiety.

Albertans can text COVID 19 Hope to 393939 to subscribe. In return, they’ll receive daily text messages on healthy thinking or actions to help manage their mood.

The program was developed by Alberta Health Services, and made possible through the generous support of the Mental Health Foundation, the University Hospital Foundation, the Calgary Health Trust, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation.

All Albertans have been impacted by COVID-19 — and this free program is an additional resource help us find encouragement and strength as we navigate the day-to-day challenges of a new normal.

Before I conclude, I’d like to continue my practice of sharing some extraordinary examples Albertans have posted under the AlbertaCares hashtag.

Every act – those big or small – lifts us up as a province and demonstrates how quickly Albertans take action to care for one another.

Acts like restaurants donating food to organizations that help feed seniors or the homeless, neighbours running errands for each other and sharing groceries, kids posting drawings in their windows as a make-shift art gallery to cheer up their neighbours, retail chains donating stock like face shields to front line health care workers, and landlords working with tenants to provide relief during these trying times.

Please continue to share your stories using the AlbertaCares hashtag and continue to take care of each other and yourselves.

Thank you. I will now take questions.